If we were to pinpoint the favourite pastime of British Columbians, complaining about mobile phone costs would be up there with expressing dismay at the quality of the Vancouver Canucks’ goaltending.
Years go by, political vows are made, mergers are explored and accepted, and residents of the province remain keenly aware that they are paying significantly more for connectivity than counterparts in other countries.
Research Co. and Glacier Media ask mobile phone users about their experience every two years. The numbers this month are not great. More than seven in 10 (72 per cent, up two points since our September 2021 survey) describe the cost of their mobile phone plan as “very expensive” or “moderately expensive,” while just 27 per cent (down two points) deem it “moderately cheap” or “very cheap.”
Mobile phone users aged 18 to 34 and aged 35 to 54 in British Columbia are more likely to claim they are paying too much (73 per cent each) than those aged 55 and over (63 per cent).
Majorities of users in all income brackets are dissatisfied with how much their mobile phones cost them each month. Complaints are highest in Metro Vancouver (75 per cent), followed by Southern B.C. (72 per cent), Northern B.C. (70 per cent), the Fraser Valley (69 per cent) and Vancouver Island (61 per cent).
A monthly plan for a mobile phone in Canada with two gigabytes of data costs about $75. When we asked British Columbians how they believe this price compares with other countries, more than two in five said they think mobile phone users in Italy (43 per cent, up nine points) and Australia (41 per cent, up eight points) would pay less for the same monthly plan.
The presence of American ads on television, particularly for Canadians who enjoy watching sitcoms and sports on U.S. networks, makes it easy to compare costs on each side of the 49th parallel. More than half of British Columbians (58 per cent, up one point) think Americans do not pay as much as we do for mobile coverage – a proportion that rises to 76 per cent among those aged 55 and over.
Federal and provincial political parties have included cheaper mobile phone service in their platforms and policy documents. In 2019, the federal Liberal Party promised “more affordable cellphone bills,” touting that a family of four would save about $1,000 a year once a re-elected government took “strong action” on this file.
British Columbians are not convinced that much has happened since then. Only 24 per cent (down one point) think the federal government will actually reduce the cost of Canadians’ mobile phone and internet bills, while 66 per cent (up five points) assume this commitment will not be met.
British Columbians aged 55 and over are particularly sceptical on this point. Only 12 per cent think the party will achieve what it promised in 2019, compared to 25 per cent of those aged 35 to 54, and 41 per cent of those aged 18 to 34.
The provincial government also pledged to act on this issue. In 2019, legislative assembly member Bob D’Eith was appointed to work with the federal government to explore more affordable and transparent mobile phone options. This was not a topic that featured prominently in the 2020 provincial campaign, where the BC NDP earned a majority government.
As was the case at the federal level, confidence on change is low four years later. Only 26 per cent of British Columbians (down six points) say they believe the provincial government’s push for more affordable and transparent mobile phone options will be fruitful, while 60 per cent (up 11 points) do not see a chance of success.
Only one-third of British Columbians who voted for the BC NDP in 2020 (33 per cent) expect to see positive movement on this file. As expected, confidence is lower among BC Green and BC Liberal voters in the last election (25 per cent each).
Over the last couple of years, Canadians and British Columbians alike have reported paying more for groceries and fuel. The idea of government action and coordination to lower mobile phone bills seemed promising in 2019, but the public is now dejected. As confidence in elected officials wanes, the only indicator increasing is our understanding that residents of other countries are having an easier time fitting mobile phone costs within their family budget.
Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.
Results are based on an online study conducted from Nov. 9-11 among 800 adults in B.C. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in B.C. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.